After recording "Fallen Torches" with Neurosis singer Scott Kelly last year, the guys in Atlanta metal band Mastodon wanted to use the track as a promotional tool for a European tour with him. But after two weeks on the road, the song hadn't been released yet.
"We don't know what happened," says Mastodon drummer and singer Brann Dailor. "It was like some kind of bureaucracy or red tape. I have no idea. I still don't know. I knew at one point, but I've forgotten what the reason was. But it didn't come out, and we talked about it in the press and everything, and people were like, 'Where's "Fallen Torches"? What the heck's going on?'"
After the tour, Dailor says manager Kristen Mulderig came up with the idea of putting "Fallen Torches" on an album of B-sides and "things that are sort of floating...this kind of shrapnel that's out there." Then Dailor, along with bandmates bassist Troy Sanders and guitarists and singers Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher began culling material for Medium Rarities, which drops on September 11 and also marks the band's twentieth anniversary.
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Medium Rarities includes covers like Feist's "A Commotion," the Flaming Lips' "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton," Metallica's "Orion," as well as songs the band recorded for soundtracks like "White Walker" (Game of Thrones) and "Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife" (Aqua Teen Hunger Force). There are also instrumental versions of "Asleep in the Deep," "Toe to Toes," "Jaguar God" and "Halloween." Until now, most of the cuts on Medium Rarities have only been available on streaming services.
Dailor says "Fallen Torches" was an experimental song to test out the new recording studio the bandmembers had built in their two-level Ember City rehearsal studios, after their previous studios were demolished by the landlord to make way for condos.
"The ultimate goal of the studio was for us to be able to be self-sufficient, to record an album in this studio," Dailor says. "A real album, not just demos. We wanted to be able to do all the tracks there and certainly have them be mixed there."
For Dailor, listening to the test pressing of Medium Rarities drummed up memories such as when Mastodon performed on Later...With Jools Holland with Feist and Bon Iver in 2011. After the show, they all had drinks, and Feist suggested that they cover each other's songs and do a seven-inch single.
"It just seemed like a pipe dream," Dailor says. "You always end up in these conversations late at night at a bar with some people. I can't tell you how many side projects have started at two o'clock in the morning that never happen. But luckily, you know, somebody in our band blabbed about it in the press, and then it kind of caught a little bit of fire at the moment. And so it was like, 'Okay, well, we have to do it now. It sort of perpetuated it. Loose lips didn't sink that ship; it actually built it."
Dailor says the producers of Aqua Teen Hunger Force asked Mastodon for "Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife" on a Friday, and they expected the band to record it by Monday.
"Usually, we get a little bit more time to think of something, but challenge accepted," he says. "So Bill and I went in on Sunday afternoon, which is unheard of. We take the weekends off like other people. But we went in on Sunday morning, and we worked out a couple of thrash riffs...and then on Monday morning, sure enough, when we went in and recorded it, I sang like King Diamond and Brett kind of thrashed it up."
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The band also recorded "Rufus Lives" for Bill & Ted Face the Music, which is not on Medium Rarities. Having those two songs be part of pop culture, along with making a cameo on Game of Thrones, were all part of what Dailor calls "thank you Mastodon moments."
The band started working on a new album before COVID-19 hit, and Medium Rarities is something to appease fans while the bandmates figure out when to drop its next release. They had about twenty tracks in the works before the pandemic, and now Dailor says they're up to about thirty. When they do start recording again, Dailor says they want to take their time making the album, really paying attention to little details.
"We'll be going in the studio pretty soon, and we're just going to take our time with it and make sure that it's perfect, because we have the time, and I'm hoping that we get to play live music for most people," he says.
Hear more from the band at Mastodon's website.